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Coley House (c1555 - 1802)
(also known as Vachell House)


Location: Originally adjacent and to the west of Coley Park Farm, Reading, Berkshire.


Thomas Vachell
(1537-1610) built the first stately manor house on the Coley Park estate adjacent to the now restored Coley Park Farm location. Construction commenced around 1555, during the reign of Queen Mary, a staunch catholic just like Thomas.

Prior to construction of the manor house, much of the estates and surrounding areas were farm land. The Vachell family already had a house (of some description) at Coley for more than 200 years, probably located in the older inner Reading district of Coley.

The completed Vachell House was later more commonly known as Coley House.


Click to Enlarge ...

An early drawing of Vachell House and Coley Park estate at the time of Tanfield Vachell (1602-1658) at the Coley Park, Reading, Berkshire.

Drawn by dutch artist Leonard Knyff and engraved by dutch artist Johannes Kip. c1700

< Click to enlarge



After the end of the Civil Wars in 1651, Vachell House was in a bad state of repair. Current owner Tanfield Vachell (1602-1658) proceeded to rebuild the main house. Gardens were laid out in a geometrical pattern of paths, flower beds and fish ponds, being influenced by the Dutch fashion at that time.

One hundred and fifty years later, the Chamberlayne family were in possession of Coley Park Estate. The following plate drawing was dedicated to William Chamberlayne by his much obliged obedient servant W.Poole. William Chamberlayne held the seat of Coley Park for a short eight years from 1792 until his death in 1799. The estate passing to his son, William Chamberlayne Jnr.

 

Click to Enlarge ...
This c1798 drawing of 'Coley House' is believed to be the original 'Vachell House'
located near Coley Park Farm. Due to many restorations over the years,
it would have been very different when first built in c1555.

 

The above plate drawing is at first strikingly similar to the current Coley House built by John McConnell in the early 1800s. It is known that stone and materials were recycled from the building for construction of the new house, but to keep the outward appearance almost unchanged from the original is interesting. The obvious differences seem to indicate this is a valid drawing of the older original Coley House. You can compare some of the building differences with the image of the current house below.

This building is flat across the front and not rounded outwards in the centre section. The central attic is a triangular shape. The parapets are panelled, where the current house is balustraded all the way around. The central upper storey window is arched.

Most notable is the smaller single storey building attached at the right. This building looks older and slightly out of character with rest of the design. It may have been part of the earlier house and strikingly similar to some of the nearby farm buildings of the early 17th century.

Looking at the whole image (click to enlarge the image), the house is depicted as being located close to the Holy Brook stream with fields stretching away to the left, and this would be at the right position according to an earlier drawing (see top of page). Most, if not all of the gardens, paths, flower beds and fish ponds of Tanfield Vachell's era have been replaced with rolling lawns and river walks. (Today, council allotment gardens cover the site of the old house and nothing remains).

Out of view just to the right of the drawing, would have been the boat house and the west bridge over the Holy Brook, with the farm buildings and servants quarters situated at the nearby farm.



Coley House (1802 - )
(also known as Coley Mansion)


Location: Wensley Road (Swallows Croft), Coley Park, Reading, Berkshire.


John McConnell
, a wealthy businessman of Sloane Street, London, purchased Coley Park estate in 1802. McConnell decided it was a better option to construct a modest new manor house a few hundred yards (metres) to the north and on higher ground (partly due to the seasonal flooding of the Holy Brook stream), instead of trying to restore the old Vachell House. The architect was D A Alexander (see insert below).

The new manor house is the large grey stone house that still stands on Wensley Road (or more precisely, Swallows Croft since the 1990's). It was named Coley House, but was commonly referred to as the 'Mansion'. Today it is part of the Berkshire Independent Hospital (formally Capio Private Hospital).


John McConnell's Coley House c1820

Stone, timbers, fittings and materials were salvaged from the old ruined Vachell House to re-use in the new structure. The rest of Vachell House was eventually demolished and leveled. Today, the area is mostly covered by council allotment gardens.

 


Architect Daniel Asher Alexander
1768 - 1846


Architect D A Alexander
was a British Architect and Engineer. He was famous for his building designs in the grandeur and simplicity characteristic of Romantic Classicism.

Gaining on his experience on the recently completed Mote House in Maidstone, where the original Mote House was demolished and a new mansion constructed, it followed closely to the requirements of John McConnell where the old Coley House was to be demolished and a new house constructed.

Click to enlarge ...
Architect Daniel Asher Alexander
Portrait by John Partridge c1818


It is not precisely known when the new Coley House was under construction but estimates are from 1802 to 1805.

Alexander was also the surveyor to the London Dock Company between 1796 and 1831 and was responsible for the early development of the London Docks with the construction of warehouses starting in 1802.

Other famous works include Dartmoor Prison and Maidstone Prison (two of the oldest gaols still in use in the United Kingdom), the Rochester Bridge, extensions to the Queen's House (or the Royal Naval Asylum) in Greenwich, London, the Old Light lighthouse on Lundy Island, and the lighthouse towers at Harwich.

Alexander may also be architect for Yeomanry House in Reading as it has a very similar facade and style to Coley House. (Maybe someone can confirm or deny this)

 

Shortly after Coley House was built, more trees were thickly planted around the farm to hide it from the wonderful views enjoyed from the front of the new Coley House. Much of the original formal manicured gardens (popular by the mid-sixteenth century) which covered a large area from the farm to where Heron Way is today, had already been long ploughed and leveled, and were replaced by grass covered lawns which bloomed with the colour of buttercups and daisies in early summer.

The new house according to existing plate drawings, was smaller and more symetrical than today. The house originally being two storey without the attic level, consisted of 2 bays, 3 segmental bays and another 2 bays, thus having seven windows across the front view, instead of the current eight. As can be seen by the drawings below (click to enlarge), they are very similar. The 1823 image shows a small portico for the east entrance, where today the house has a fine arched coach door known as a porte-cochere. Smaller two-level and single storey buildings at the rear were most likely the kitchen and wash house. Servants were usually accommodated at the nearby farm.

Click to Enlarge... Click to Enlarge...
Coley House c1823
Coley House c1842


John McConnell sold the estate and the new Coley House only a few years after completion to John Berkeley Monck in 1810, whose family would own the house for the next 127 years.

According to the English Heretige website, the house was altered in the 1840's by the then owner, John Bligh Monck. It does not state all the work that was carried out, but it is possible the house was extended on the right-hand side and the attic level was added to the roof during this period. The staircase is mentioned as being renovated with marble balusters, which had remained virtually unchanged until the 1990's, when the staircase was destroyed by arson as the house lay derelict.


Description of Coley House
(courtesy of the English Heritage website)


Early 19th Century (altered circa 1840). Architect D A Alexander.


East front: 2 storeys and central attic, rendered, balustrade parapet over cornice. End 2 bays break forward on each side. 7 bay front, glazing bar sashes with raised upper surrounds on guttae, and keystones.
Porte Cochere off-centre left, also rendered, of 2 arched bays. Small conservatory right of centre on twisted columns. 2 dormers, small extension to right. Original tripartite doorway with fluted mullions, arcaded fanlight with Greek key pattern. Sungod mask (18th Century) above. Glazed doors.

South front (main facade): 2 bays, 3 storey segmental bay and 3 bays.
Central attic, rendered, balustrade parapet over cornice.

West front: 3 bay arched loggia in centre with room over.

Interior: flagged hall with black corner lozenges. Staircase circa 1840 with arcaded 1st floor landing each side (marble balusters). Ground floor bow window room has a fine, apparently 18th Century (possibly reproduction) marble chimneypiece with harvesting scenes.

Exterior: Large formal garden to west with terraced and apsed centre, steps, walls and hedges. Circa 1800 piers at end of west wall.

(www.english-heritage.org.uk)


Definitions:

porte-cochere - (French porte-cochère, literally "coach door", also called a carriage porch) is the architectural term for a porch or portico-like structure at a main or secondary entrance to a building, through which it is possible for a horse and carriage or motor vehicle to pass, in order for the occupants to alight under cover, protected from the weather.

loggia - An open-sided, roofed or vaulted gallery or portico, either free-standing or along the front or side of a building, often at an upper level.


In its heyday, Coley House had a fine kitchen which was supplied with meats and vegetables from the nearby Coley Park Farm. A large area to the east of the farm was known as the Kitchen Gardens and had 3 metre (10 feet) high walls all around to protect the gardens from intruders (including the odd poacher). The gardeners' house was actually built into the wall on the south side facing the Holy Brook.

By 1900 the house would have probably been at its prime, with most of the current extensions in place, including a magnificient conservatory build onto the front west wing. The conservatory being accessible from a door at the rear left that led directly into the house, and also by an entrance from the covered porch at the far left.


Coley House c1900
Photograph by S. Victor White and Company, Reading

Very little remains of the beautiful gardens and features today, most having been lost to new housing and roads, and more was swallowed up by the rear extensions during the mid 1990's. Prior to the alignment of Swallows Croft roadway there was a stone fishpond located at the front (south side facing Lesford Road) of the building, which was lush with pond plants and had a fountain in the centre.

Around Coley House were three acres of pleasure gardens that consisted of grassed walkways and bordered flower beds flanked by high dense hedges. Stone steps led up tiered levels of grassed lawn. Carefully postioned seating gave many differing views of the gardens, with some very well hidden spots for that moment of peace and quiet. A large fountain was a prominent feature near the rear of the house. The gardens flowing to the west eventually led into a medium dense wooded outcrop, with conifer trees flanking a walkway along the way. At the far end of the small woods was the North Lodge cottage, and a pathway that led to Southcote crossing the GWR railway line.

The War Years (WWII)

Coley House, like many other mansions and manor houses were commandeered by the military during war time for many purposes. Coley House was first used by the War Department in 1941 as a temporary troop camp for soldiers from all over England as they prepared for war deployment. Many mansions, like Dunorlan Park in Royal Tunbridge Wells for example, were also used to initially house troops but after these were deployed to the war, and with the introduction of the War Damage Commission in 1941, the department continued to utilise the mansions for this cause. The War Damage Commission was indeed located somewhere in Reading and was known as the HQ for the No.6 Region (Southern). It is fairly certain it was located at Coley House from 1942 until 1946.


Domestic Susan Aston at Coley House in 1940

The photo above is of a young lady named Susan Aston taken in 1940. In this photo she was 16 years old and worked as a domestic at Coley House for a few years. Her her older sister also worked at the estate. In 1941 the troops were already starting to arrive at the Coley House and her services were no longer required. She returned to her home in Hartlepool. In 1942, Susan received her call-up papers on her 18th birthday and joined the Royal Ordnance Factory at Aycliffe near Hartlepool, working with ammunitions.

This postcard (below) was dated September 2 1942, and has the name Kathleen Moore on the reverse side. Kathleen worked for the War Damage Commission and was probably stationed at Coley House, hence the postcard. (Thanks to Kathleen's daughter, Jackie Dance, for this wonderful piece of history.)


Coley House Postcard - Dated 1942


The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF)


After the Second World War, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, occupied Coley House as their Reading headquarters. Known then as the Board of Agriculture, this government department was responsible for the safety and support of our farming, fishing and food industries. The MAFF also later built more buildings on the grounds and had large enclosures for animal research at the rear, especially sheep.

The MAFF would hold an annual Christmas party for the children of the staff working at the department. Located in the main reception area of the mansion, games were organised and food was generously provided, with Santa arriving to deliver a present to all the children attending.

MAFF is now known as DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

 

Reader 'Geoffrey Taylor' from Northwood, Hampshire writes:

I can tell you as a certainty that the War Damage Commission was at Coley House during the latter part of the war and later. This is from my own knowledge. We lived in Reading and I was at Reading School up to May 1947 (when I was called up).

My father worked for the War Damage Commission from sometime during the war until sometime in 1947. During his time there I frequently went to Coley House to meet him when he had finished work.  This would certainly have been in the summer months of 1944, 1945, and 1946.  Maybe also in 1943.

Under your list of Residents you have the War Damage Commission as being at Coley House from 1941 to 1945, and MAFF from c1946.  I am convinced that the War Damage Commission was there in the summer of 1946.

Dated: May 2014

 


The Derelict Years

By the 1980's the MAFF like many government departments were having to downsize and cut back on many facilities that were considered cost burdens. Coley House was an expensive building to maintain and needed a costly makeover to keep the house in good order.

By the mid 1980's the MAFF had moved out of Coley House and plans were made to have some of the grounds to the west allocated for housing. This would eventually result in the newest MAFF building, built as recently as 1968 at the rear left of the mansion, being bulldozed to make way for the Swallows Croft housing.

Click to enlarge...
Coley House heavily bricked up
lays derelict for almost 10 years
© Adam Dunne 1996

The house was heavily bricked up, including all the windows, in an attempt to stop intruders and vandals. It wasn't long before the vegetation took hold and started to give the place a very derelict look. Ivy took hold at the rear and west side, eagerly climbing its way, unabated, to reach the roof level.

Eventually the sealed house was compromised and intruders entered the house. Some were children just exploring the house with a sense of adventure and mystery, but others were there to vandalise or destroy what was really a part of their own estates history. It was during one of these latter visits that a fire was started near the once majestic stairway, and sadly it was destroyed, with only a couple of marble columns left standing.

Click to enlarge...
Coley House during reconstruction - 1996
© Adam Dunne 1996

 

Capio Hospital

In 1993 Capio Reading Hospital was purpose built in Coley Park, located at Swallows Croft off Wensley Road, located to the front of the DEFRA Administration building and to the east of Coley House.


Capio Reading Hospital
at Swallows Croft, Coley Park in 2004

Around 1995, Capio Hospital started on the restoration and expansion of the deteriorated mansion. The smaller rear buildings were completely removed to allow for expansion. The new rear additions doubled the size of the original house. The roof of the original mansion had to be almost entirely replaced. Being a listed Heritage II building, the restoration of the original house had to adhere to the heritage guidelines. Unfortunately many of the original interior features were not replaceable or had already been lost by the previous fire damage and general deterioration over time.


In 2001 Coley House was occupied by the
Capio
Hospital Outpatients Department

The building and restoration work was completed in late 1997 and Capio Hospital moved in and located their Outpatients Department in the building.

In September 2007 the Swedish owned Capio Hospital chain, was purchased by Ramsay Health Care, Australia's biggest private hospital operator, for 190 million pounds, marking its first expansion into Europe. Capio Reading Hospital was renamed the Berkshire Independent Hospital.


Coley House (southeast corner) 1999

That brings Coley House up to date, so the following section concentrates on the Lodges that were originally part of the Coley House estate.

VISIT THE GALLERY FOR MORE PHOTOS OF COLEY HOUSE

 



The Lodges


The main entrance to Coley House was via Coley Avenue (earlier known as Coley Lane). After leaving the Bath Road the lane travels about ½ mile in a fairly straight line with a slight curve to the left before approaching the two main lodges. Known commonly as the East and West Lodges (which are also still in situ today), they were built at the same time as the main Coley House by John McConnell, again using architect D.A. Alexander.


East and West Lodges
©Richard Swynford-Lain (12 July 2001)



Description of East and West Lodges
(courtesy of the English Heritage website)


Early 19th Century. Architect D A Alexander.

East and West Lodges: 1½ storeys rendered. Matching lodges with hipped slate roofs. Facing fronts with plinths and string over ground floor. Projecting Doric portico (stone) and 6 panel door each. Flanking blind arched recesses. Central small arched window above with radiating glazing, gable over. Moulded wooden cornice continued up gable verges. On north front, string becomes impost mould to an arched glazing bar sash window in arched recess, cornice continued. Further set back extension. The Lodges are linked by cast-iron railings with low arrow head dog-rails. Paneled standards to gates, side gate by West Lodge.

(www.english-heritage.org.uk)



Click to enlarge ...
East Lodge in 2006 (with the entry cleared of bushes)
©Lord Cravat 2006 - Flikr CCL

Both the East and West Lodges are listed Heritage II buildings, but are available as residential property and can be purchased just as a normal house, but there are restrictions on any modifications to the structure.


Recent image of the East and West Lodges at Coley Park
©Graham Horn 2009 - CCL


North Lodge

At the other end of estate was the North Lodge (actually it is at the west end of the estate). The North Lodge was demolished in the 1990's to make way for some modern housing. The lodge had large gardens to the side and rear, where mainly vegetables were grown to supplement the supply to Coley House. The front garden was small with a lawn and pleasant flower borders surrounded by small to medium hedges. Centrally located in the front garden was a water hand pump (Similar hand pump). During its latter years the Lodge was privately owned.



North Lodge and gardens surrounded by modern housing
©1959
Kevin Rosier

Before Coley Park became a housing estate, original access to the North Lodge was via a small lane that traversed the rear of the estate commencing at the West Lodge on Coley Avenue. This lane originally continued past the lodge and into the Southcote estates. After the railway line was built the access was via the bridge at nearby Southcote Farm Lane.

The lane is still a public accessway today, and is the lane leading to the right in the above photo of the East and West Lodges.

A pathway also led from the North Lodge through the wooded area and along the conifer-lined gardens, back to Coley House. In spring, the verges of the pathway were alive with bluebells and daffodils.


Residents (information from Census Records)

The names and occupations of the former residents of Coley House have been extracted from the UK Census records for the following years. Some spelling and dates may be incorrect as not all census data has been transcribed correctly or was illegible. The resident's approximate age is shown in brackets. Hopefully the information provided may assist in those researching their family history.

The following lists include residents at Coley House. For residents of Coley Farm and the lodges please refer to the Coley Park Farm page.

1841

John Bligh Monck (30) - Owner of the estate
Mary Monck (50) - John's Mother (widow)
Emilia Monck (25) - John's Sister     
Mariette Monck (20) - John's Sister
Servants:
Emily Goldfraps (?) (15) - Servant?
Sidney Bazelgatti (30) - Servant?
John Fisher (30)  - Servant?
             

1851

John Bligh Monck (40) - Owner of the estate - JP
Margaret Monck (28) - Wife
William Berkeley Monck (8) - Son
Charlotte Emilia Margaret Monck (8) - Daughter (known as Emilia)
Mary Louisa Monck (7) - Daughter
John Stanley Monck (6) - Son
Francis E. Monck (3) - Daughter
George Monck (1) - Son
Servants:
Elizabeth Hamilton (31) - Governess
Minni Mundy(?) (29) - Cook
Elizabeth Thomas (27) - Housemaid
Martha Lunden(?) (32) - Nurse
Cardine Wells(?) (19) - Housemaid
Sarah Dunk (21) - Kitchenmaid
Alfred King (27) - Butler
James Watson (17) - Footman

1861

Sir Thomas Wathen Waller (55) - 2nd Baronet (1805-1892) of Braywick Lodge, Berkshire (born St.James, London)
Catherine Waller (nee Wise) (51) - Wife (born Kensington Palace, Middlesex)
Katherine Mary Waller (21) - Daughter (Born 1842 in Belgium - British Subject - Died 1884 age 42)
Sophia Harriet Waller (19) - Daughter (Born 1844 in Belgium - British Subject - Died 1918 age 74)
Charlotte L Waller (18) - Daughter (Born Belgium - British Subject)
Anna Waller (15) - Daughter (Born Belgium - British Subject)
Servants:
Emy Ridgers? (33) - Governess
Ellen Thornton (29) - Housekeeper
Anne Alesford? (35) - Lady's Maid
Mary Mays (26 ) - House Maid
Charlotte C. Lost? (19) - Lady's Maid
Caroline East? (22) - Kitchen Maid
Elizabeth Cardall? (18) - House Maid
Philippe Frewing? (45) - Butler
George Murray (22) - Footman
Henry Thomas (21) - Groom

Note: Sir Thomas Wathen Waller, 2nd Baronet. was born on 24 June 1805. He was the son of Sir Jonathan Wathen Waller, 1st Baronet. and Sophia Charlotte Howe, Baroness Howe of Langar. He married Catherine Wise, daughter of Reverend Henry Wise, on 20 October 1836. He died on 29 January 1892 at age 86. Sir Thomas Wathen Waller, 2nd Baronet. gained the title of 2nd Baronet Waller.

1871

John Bligh Monck (59) - Land Owner - Magistrate of the County of Berks
Margaret Monck (49) - Wife
Fanny Monck (23) - Daughter
George Monck (22) - Son
Servants:
Lena Hill (27) - Ladys Maid
John Faye (33) - Butler
May Faye (33) - Cook
Elizabeth Breach (26) - Housemaid
Mary Fletcher (20) - Housemaid
Harriet Saxton (17) - Housemaid
Emily Baker (19) - Kitchenmaid
George Jarvis (16) - Groom


1881

Charles Laurence (28) - Cabinet Maker - In charge of House
Mary A. Laurence (30) - Wife


1891

John Bligh Monck (79) - Land Owner - Justice of the Peace
Charlotte Emilia Margaret Monck (48) - Daughter
William Berkeley Monck (48) - Son - Solicitor & Barrister at Law
Althea Paulina Louisa Monck (41) - Daughter-in-Law (William's Wife)
Louisa E. Monck (16) - Grand Daughter (of John)
Margaret A. Monck (14) - Grand Daughter
George Stanley Stevens Monck (11) - Grand Son
John B. Monck (7) - Grand Son
Servants:
Rose Budd (32) - Lady's Maid
Fanny Gibson? (19) - Lady's Maid
Mary J. Lewis (33) - Cook
Sarah Hornsby (25) - Housemaid
Florence J. Tibnup? (21) - Housemaid

1901
(Work in Progress ...)

1911

Peter Keevil (68) Provision Merchant (Head of House) - Widower
Stella Keevil (35) - Daughter (Single)
Edith Keevil (29) - Daughter (Single)
Helene Dooey (46) - Domestic Cook
Emily Harris (26) - Domestic Parlourmaid
Kate Drewett (26) - Domestic Housemaid
Jessie Millard (19) - Between Maid (Female Junior Servant)


c1941 - 1946

Offices of the War Damage Commission
Mr Taylor
Kathleen Moore
Miss Susan Aston (17) - Domestic Servant


c1947 - c1980

Offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), later known as DEFRA


c1980 - 1993

Unoccupied and derelict!


1993 - 2007

Restored, expanded by new owners, Capio Hospital. Used as outpatients department.


2007 -

Owned by Ramsay Health Care. Now part of the Berkshire Independent Hospital.

 


 


Did you work at the Mansion during the MAFF years, or have any
stories or images you would like to be included here?


Please email me at the address below ...

 

VISIT THE GALLERY FOR MORE PHOTOS OF COLEY HOUSE

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